Updated: January 26, 2022 5:05:25 pm
If you have watched enough romantic K- dramas, you know that there is a pattern to all of them. Girl meets boy; they don’t like each other. They becomes frenemies and gradually turn into friends. By Episode 6, they have a meaningful conversation, when they realise that the other is not actually that bad. Another character is introduced, turning it into a love triangle, and creating ripples of jealousy. Misunderstandings are cleared; they fall in love and (usually) discover they have a common dark past. Four episodes of cute fluff with some emotional scenes follow, maybe an abrupt break-up scene. By finale, everything is sunny in their paradise. Fin.
I went in with the same expectations for Choi Woo-shik and Kim Da-mi’s Our Beloved Summer. On the surface, it seemed like another sweet, romantic drama that one could watch to pass the time, with the only variation being that it was about two ex-lovers. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Our Beloved Summer is a heart wrenching and exhausting slow burn of an evolving romance. It delves into the awkwardness and ugliness of a break-up, and the repercussions. The fact that the emotions and the story felt so real, and the usual K-drama tropes were absent made it a compelling watch. There were no men to threaten the female lead, just so that the male character could show his prowess at martial arts. The real threats to their mental peace, was within.
The past and the present
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Many times, the constant switching from the past to the present feels rather suffocating, but Our Beloved Summer handled it with ease. We meet our two characters — Kook Yeon Su, a steely PR agent, and Choi Woong, a rather lost but highly successful artist. They were high-school lovers, when a documentary about them was filmed, which became viral. Fate brings the exes together again as Yeon-su requires Woong for a project, and slowly, the truth about their failed relationship that lasted for five years, unfolds as the series progresses. What was so realistic about this premise, is that there was no parent involvement to break them up, and even the members forming the love triangle had heart and soul.
Our Beloved Summer delved into the cracks of the relationship and left the audience pondering further on the reasons for the break-up. As the past reveals, Yeon-su has struggled with poverty her whole life, and has had only her grandmother for support, who ‘raised her to be selfish’. So, she appears seemingly distant at times and hard-as-nails, but there’s the loving side of her that only Woong knows — even if he doesn’t know about her life, a secret that she keeps close to herself.
On the other hand, Woong appears to have no ambition, despite having enormous talent with sketching. He is just happy making memories with Yeon-su, because it gives him the comfort and love that he needs. He refuses grand offers to go abroad, because he just doesn’t see the necessity. This deeply unsettles Yeon-su, who is already struggling with overwhelming burdens of her own. Yeon-su is unable to overcome her numerous inferiority complexes, and breaks up with Woong in a brutal manner. Woong, who already has severe abandonment issues owing to unresolved childhood trauma, is left fumbling, trying to piece his life back together.
In the present, the two individuals who appear calm on the surface are having a hard time in reality. They can only remember what they don’t like about each other, and all their faults come to light. There is no excessive drama, shouting or crying– in fact, the restrained emotions shown by the two is even more uncomfortable. Behind Yeon-su’s seemingly blank expressions, you see the tears, but her determination to walk away before they fall, is what wins the scene.
Meanwhile, Woong appears composed while sketching, but the anger towards Yeon-su rises like bile. He can’t resist behaving childishly towards her, including spraying salt water on her, and yet, he struggles to regain composure. They might seem like they’ve changed over the years, but at heart, they’re still the same two high-schoolers, trying to cope with their own trauma. The break-up that took place five years ago affected them terribly, and despite their best efforts, they haven’t been able to forget about each other.
You know that they’ll find their way back to each other. But this wasn’t about the inevitable reconciliation, it is about how two emotionally distraught people could move past their own shortcomings and make a relationship work. It isn’t easy—it’s almost hideously painful, as even before the final break-up, the two come to blows and Yeon-su would be the first to call it quits. The easiest term would be to call it toxic, but somehow you’re not able to term them as toxic at all — because it is too generic for them. Finally, they slowly begin to understand each other more, as they realise that the flaw they’ve kept looking for in the other, is in them too.
They struggle with their emotions before they finally get back together — sometimes the desire breaks free, and so they can’t stop themselves from exchanging a kiss in the rain. It was one of the most beautifully constructed scenes in the show, as we see a montage of their previous kisses, from high school to college, which we hadn’t seen before. Yet, this kiss doesn’t mean instant resolution, in fact, it leads to more confusion. Should they be friends and try to have lunch together or play video games? It doesn’t quite work that way. Even their reconciliation is awkward at first, because both are scared of hurting each other again. They realise the villain, more than miscommunication, is the suppression of feelings, especially on Yeon-su’s part. At last, she is able to tell him that she is in unbearable pain. He doesn’t say anything in that scene, but just hugs her. There are no words that are wasted and there are no profound declarations of love.
That’s what keeps Our Beloved Summer real, it captures all the dynamics of a relationships. The two of them grow and evolve, but not at break-neck speed—and find a way to fit like a jigsaw puzzle.
Woong finally understands the power of his art skills, and it takes a harsh critic to tell him so. He had taken his prowess for granted, as a hobby that turned into a profession, that didn’t mean much to him. This is an unusual trait for artists, who are normally passionate about their work.
The third wheel
Of course, there’s a broken-hearted person in the mix, who has had a one-sided crush on Yeon-su since high school. He’s Woong’s best and only friend, no less. At first, this tangent felt like an irritant, because he could have jarred the symphony of the show. But Kim Ji-Woong isn’t just a replaceable third wheel. While struggling with his suppressed emotions for Yeon-su and his torn loyalties to Woong, he battles a painful home front. He has suffered a particularly exhausting relationship with his mother. His character is encapsulated in a brilliantly structured line: ‘I had become numb to everything. But that doesn’t mean I was used to everything.” He wrestles with the numbing grief throughout the show, and finally at the end, he reveals his thoughts to his mother, who is practically on her death bed. With just a few tears, he tells her that he cannot forgive her—but he’s still her son.
Our Beloved Summer stands apart from many other K-dramas, for its deeply layered characters and their heartaches that cannot be understood at a glance. It’s not just about romance, it’s about how much you can push yourself for love, platonic or otherwise—and the spiral that follows. It’s also about picking yourself up and gingerly piecing your life together, and finally facing the issues that you’ve avoided in the past. With its poignant dialogues, powerful, yet restrained acting, the theme song sung by BTS’s V—it’s hard to find too many flaws with this story.
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